EDUCATION

NJ Monthly’s High School Rankings Based on New Methodology

Education reform has been a hot topic among politicians and one of Gov. Chris Christie’s reforms — the superintendent salary cap — has already started having effects. New Jersey Monthly Editor Ken Schlager told NJ Today Senior Correspondent DesirĂ©e Taylor that the salary cap has caused some veteran superintendents to seek employment in other states. He also discussed his magazine’s latest ranking of state high schools, which has New Providence High School at the top.

Schlager said about 20 superintendents have left their jobs because of the salary cap, which went into effect in 2011. He said those paid more than $200,000 per year would have to take a pay cut to about $170,000 if they renew their contracts. “So they’re bailing from their jobs and going to places like Westchester if they’re in northern New Jersey or if they’re in southern New Jersey maybe they’re going to areas around Philadelphia where they can get better paying jobs as superintendents,” he said.

Proponents of the salary cap have said the pay rate is a good salary, but Schlager said many of the highest paid superintendents are experienced individuals who have been doing their work for many years. He cited Roy Montesano, who was the superintendent in Ramsey when he was named superintendent of the year, as an example. Montesano left New Jersey to be a superintendent at Hastings on Hudson in New York. Schlager said Montesano would likely have had to take a $60,000 pay cut to remain in Ramsey.

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“It’s good news for the towns in that they get to save money, but potentially bad news because the crop of people that they can choose from to replace these positions, to fill these positions, are not going to be as experienced people,” Schlager explained.

Superintendents are like the CEOs of the school system, according to Schlager, and they want to be paid accordingly. He said the higher paid individuals are disappearing from the job pool in New Jersey.

New Jersey Monthly has ranked the state’s high schools for the first time since September 2010. Schlager said New Providence High School came out on top, rising from fifth to first on the magazine’s list. “There’s a fair amount of movement on our list this year and it’s because we did change the methodology a little and we changed it because of the times,” he said.

Schlager explained that the ranking criteria includes factors like classroom size, student-faculty ratio, test scores and where students go after graduation. For this year’s rankings, the magazine weighted the test scores and student college choices higher than the last time because it didn’t want to penalize school districts that received less state aid for having to increase class sizes or lay off teachers.

“If they’re still putting out great results like students are getting great SAT scores, they shouldn’t be penalized because they had to add to class size,” Schlager said. “So things changed a little and by necessity that would move the rankings around a little bit.”

Some have criticized the criteria used, but Schlager said, “There’s no perfect rating system. … Every school is judged the same way.”

He added that New Jersey Monthly included rankings of district factor groups, which groups similar socioeconomic school districts. The magazine also ranked 35 vocational schools. “That was a real eyeopener because some of those schools — particularly a group of schools in Monmouth County, they have these career academies — are off the charts as far as how well the kids in those schools do.”